Parents should limit the amount of time children spend on social media and video games, researchers have said, after a new study found inactive teenagers are more likely to have signs of heart damage when they are young adults.
Academics said this damage could be setting the stage for heart attacks and strokes in later life. Even children who have a normal weight were still at risk, experts found. In the new study 766 British youngsters were tracked for 13 years. Sitting time was assessed using smartwatches with an activity tracker for seven days. Children aged 11 were assessed to see how much time they were inactive each day. This assessment was repeated when they were 15 and again when they were 24.
Researchers also performed ultrasound scans on the hearts of older teenagers and young adults.
The scans were used to assess the weight of the heart’s left ventricle. An increased left ventricle is a “strong predictor” for heart problems in adulthood and is used as a tool to assess “premature cardiac damage” in children and young adults, the experts said.
Researchers then looked at periods of inactivity to see whether more time spent sitting is linked to increased “left ventricular mass”.
“All those hours of screen time in young people add up to a heavier heart, which we know from studies in adults raises the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes,” said study author Dr Andrew Agbaje of the University of Eastern Finland. “Children and teenagers need to move more to protect their long-term health. Children were sedentary for more than six hours a day and this increased by nearly three hours a day by the time they reached young adulthood.
“Our study indicates the accumulation of inactive time is related to heart damage regardless of body weight and blood pressure. Parents should encourage children and teenagers to move more by taking them out for a walk and limiting time spent on social media and video games.”
Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan of the British Heart Foundation said the study “highlights that even if we look healthy from the outside, inactivity may lead to silent changes accumulating in our heart... the need to stay active starts early”.